Attorney generals from 17 states have signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Merrick Garland demanding that parents be guaranteed the freedom to speak their minds at school board meetings.
The usually mundane sessions have become extremely heated in some areas in recent months, amid parental fury at mask policies and the curriculum – in particular the teaching of critical race theory.
Police have been called and arrests made, and in some schools the situation is so intense that parents are now barred from board meetings.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) on September 29 asked the Biden administration to do an interagency investigation of threats of violence against school board members, and said the threats ‘could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.’
Garland, the attorney general, issued an October 4 memo calling for the FBI to take the lead on a task force to address threats against officials.
But on Monday a series of Republican state attorney generals pushed back, urging Garland to guarantee the freedom of speech.
Shelley Slebrch and other angry parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting was halted by the school board because the crowd refused to quiet down, in Ashburn, Virginia on June 22. A group of attorney generals are now demanding that the parents be guaranteed the right to speak out
Angry community members and parents sing the Star Spangled Banner after a Loudoun County School Board meeting was halted by the school board because the crowd refused to quiet down, in Ashburn, Virginia
Jon Tigges is detained following a controversial Loudoun County School Board meeting on June 22, which included discussion of Critical Race Theory
The letter was coordinated by Todd Rokita, the attorney general of Indiana.
‘Concerned parents passionate about their kids’ education are not terrorists,’ he said.
Todd Rokita coordinated the letter from 17 attorney generals to Biden and Garland
‘The Biden administration and its special-interest allies need to dial down the rhetoric and respect the rights of parents to be heard.’
Rokita’s letter drew the support of the attorney generals of Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia, among others.
He said he was determined that ‘Hoosiers’ – people from Indiana – should be allowed to express themselves freely.
‘Hoosier parents have a First Amendment right to speak their minds to teachers, administrators and school board members,’ he said.
‘That’s why I’m demanding that the Biden administration immediately stop attempting to shut down parental participation through scare tactics and intimidation.’
Biden, pictured on Monday, is facing pressure both to clamp down on unrest at school board meetings and to allow freedom for the parents to speak
In the letter, the 17 attorney generals said that any attempt to limit parental interaction at the board meetings violates ‘First Amendment rights of parents to address school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff on educational matters by seeking to criminalize lawful dissent and intimidate parents into silence.’
They said that the National School Boards Association had gone too far, and was stifling legitimate debate.
‘To be sure, anyone who attacks or threatens violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, or staff should be prosecuted,’ they wrote.
‘However, in its letter demanding action, the NSBA fails to document a single legitimate instance of violence.
‘And even if it did, there are sufficient criminal and civil remedies already available in all 50 states and territories.’
They concluded that ‘the NSBA seems more concerned about suppressing speech with which it disagrees than real threats of violence’ and that a ‘physical assault on a school administrator, board member, teacher, or staff is just that, a criminal assault and will be addressed under state law.’